Dyeing to knit
At KnitCircus Yarns, Bug Richardson helps transform raw, white yarn into a kaleidoscope of colors.
Knitting “rock star” Bug Richardson in the dry processing area at KnitCircus Yarns Grand Canyon Drive facility in Madison. Behind her, hanks are ready to be wound into either cakes or skeins using the wooden umbrella swifts.
Photographs by Sarah Maughan
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From the pages of In Business magazine.
Everyone knows that colored yarn does not come from colored sheep any more than chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Both require human interaction to reach their full potential, and at KnitCircus Yarns on Madison’s west side, textile artists revel in bringing yarn to life.
Jaala Spiro opened KnitCircus (knitcircus.com) in 2012. Last fall, the business added a retail store just a few steps from its studio in response to a booming knitting community.
“Madison has the largest knitter’s guild in the country with over 500 members,” Spiro notes. Still, 80% of KnitCircus’ sales are generated online and through wholesalers around the U.S. Spiro planned it that way, admitting that she’d still be working out of her basement if it weren’t for the internet.
From top, yarn dyer Bug Richardson douses wet yarn with several bottles of dye using a recipe the KnitCircus staff created for a color they named Dizzying Intellect. Middle, resembling spaghetti noodles, speckled skeins of yarn move through the dyeing process. Bottom, Richardson designed the gradient yarn cake named “Cindy Lou Who.”
The business is known for its gradient yarn cakes that allow a knitter to create a multicolored sweater, scarf or pair of socks from one piece of yarn without ever having to roll a ball of yarn or stop in the middle of a pattern for a color change.
KnitCircus didn’t invent yarn cakes, certainly, but the business has become known for a yarn-dyeing technique that transitions through six different colors on one continuous strand. Not surprisingly, their method is both unique and proprietary.
“It’s an intense dyeing process that not many people have figured out how to do or have the capability to do on a large scale,” she explains. “We’ve been working hard at that over the past year.”
The color bug
Michigan-native Bug Richardson Seling, 26, is one of several yarn dyers on the KnitCircus staff. With a liberal arts degree in fiber art from Berea College in Kentucky, she can describe the dyeing process down to the molecular level.
Here, her job is largely production-based. “I produce things for people,” she says. “I knew in college about the dichotomy between craft and art. I work in the craft industry, which is an important distinction.”
She and her colleagues respond to inventory demands, quotas, and deadlines, but the real fun, she says, is when they get to design new prototype colors or patterns. After one recent in-service day, the yarn dyeing team created 30 new colors or color combinations. “It was really fun and took some pressure off,” Richardson reports. “For a yarn dyer, that’s the most glamorous day you can possibly imagine.”
Richardson recently created a yarn cake she named “Cindy Lou Who,” featuring a gradient that starts out blue before transitioning to green, yellow, orange, pink, and finally raspberry.
In fact, KnitCircus staff is always posting new colors online, from twisted solids to speckled skeins, which Richardson says are particularly hot right now. “Think of candy sprinkles on white frosting,” she describes.